Civil grand jury looks at County Jail, Juvenile Hall operations

County Jail inmates prepare to leave the main dorm for a search of the room in 2012. The unit had 47 residents that day but has a maximum capacity of 62.
County Jail inmates prepare to leave the main dorm for a search of the room in 2012. The unit had 47 residents that day but has a maximum capacity of 62. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo County Jail, Juvenile Hall and holding cells at seven police departments are well-maintained and safely operated, the county civil grand jury found in a recently published report.

But the jury foreman said Tuesday that tours of the facilities were guided by jail staff and interviews with inmates were provided to jurors, and the report did not mention three inmate deaths at the County Jail since January 2014.

What the report did look at was impacts of state prison realignment, physical changes being made to expand the women’s jail, increases in medical costs for inmates, and plans for additions to Juvenile Hall.

In their investigation, jurors interviewed Sheriff Ian Parkinson and Undersheriff Tim Olivas, jail staff, a chief deputy probation officer, and various police chiefs, as well as well as four inmates provided to them by jail staff, jury foreman Jim DeRose said.

Most of the report focused on the County Jail.

According to the report, the Board of State Community Corrections rates the 86,600-square-foot jail at a capacity of 526 inmates, or 637 inmates when adding double bunks in some of the housing units. However, the report found the jail had, as of June, an average inmate population of 732, a 2 percent increase over last year’s average population of 717 inmates.

Even after adding the double bunks, the overcrowding requires some inmates to sleep in portable plastic sleeping modules with mattresses known as “boats.”

The overcrowding comes as a consequence of the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Act that requires offenders convicted of nonsexual, nonviolent felonies to serve their time at county jails in a court-mandated effort to relieve state prison overcrowding.

The jail operates on a $23.6 million annual budget — a 2 percent increase over the 2012-13 fiscal year. Roughly $2.6 million of that comes from the state to assist with realignment costs.

The report noted the Sheriff’s Office uses some of those funds for re-entry programs to reduce the high number of repeat offenders.

The women’s jail expansion also will help with overcrowding, the report said. The project includes more housing, a new medical facility and a new surveillance system. The women’s Honor Farm — a minimum-security wing for low-risk inmates — will be moved to allow for an expansion of the men’s Honor Farm. The Women’s Honor Farm is being moved to an independently secured area within the perimeter of the Men’s Honor Farm.

On medical care, the grand jury found that about 40 percent of inmates receive medication for mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. To meet the needs of the growing jail population, one additional doctor, one and one-half full-time equivalent mental health technicians and one full-time administrative assistant were added in 2013.

Violent attacks on staff and the smuggling of contraband continues to be a problem, the report said, with at least one incident a day. In response, the Sheriff’s Office formed a Custody Emergency Response Team of 20 specially-trained and equipped deputies to respond to combative inmates and acquired a new drug-sniffing K-9.

The grand jury found the Juvenile Hall, which is housed on the main jail campus and has a capacity of 50 youths, to be clean and well-maintained. Additionally, construction of an addition to house 20 additional beds, three classrooms, a multi-purpose room and administration wing is set to begin next year.

Lastly, the grand jury toured temporary holding cells at the Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo police departments and found them to be clean, safely operated and up-to-date on health inspections and safety certifications.

But jurors took tours of the County Jail in November 2013, DeRose said. Since then, three inmates have died in custody. According to the Sheriff’s Office, there have been six total inmate deaths since 2009.

“At the time of the tour there were no inmate deaths,” DeRose said.

The report does not require any response from the county.